Can You Translate These Common Phrases From the ’70s?

EDUCATION

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By: Ian Fortey

6 Min Quiz

It's time to get out of here, so what might your '70s self say?

When it comes time to leave someplace, you want to do it with a little style. So why say, "let's go"? It's much more colorful to just toss out a line like "Let's blow this taco stand" and take yourself and your friends elsewhere.

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Someone just called your sister a "brick house." What's that all about?

You need to look no further than the song "Brick House" by the Commodores to know that this term means someone looks very hot. In more specific terms, it's a reference to a person's body, which is to say, they're well built. Like a brick house.

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You called your buddy to see what's up, and they say they're "chillaxin'." What?

"Chillaxin'" is one of the greatest portmanteau words of all time, merging "chilling" with "relaxing." Both of those terms essentially mean the same thing, so chillaxin' is just some very dedicated hanging out and doing nothing.

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If someone says they like your "threads," what are they talking about?

Having cool threads is always essential to looking good in any era, because your threads are your clothes. Makes sense, since your clothes were likely put together with a fair number of threads in the first place.

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Let's say you're at a club, and someone says they want you to meet this "cat." Who are you meeting?

Back in the 1970s, it was the coolest thing in the world to come up with some generalized nicknames for people, and none was more effective than calling people "cats." For instance, if you're heading out for a night, you might go with the cool cat you know from work.

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What kind of person gets called a "burnout"?

Every so often you'll still run across this term today, though it's not that common anymore. In the '70s, and only as a pejorative, you'd call someone a "burnout" if they were a drug user and you were calling them out on it.

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Was there a specific time when someone might belt out the word "shazbot"?

The unusual and essentially gibberish word "shazbot" owes its brief 1970s fame to the show "Mork and Mindy." The alien Mork, played by Robin Williams, would swear in his own language by saying "shazbot." People picked it up as a G-rated way to avoid actually swearing.

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If one of your friends just yelled the word "burn!" what do you think happened?

Not a lot of '70s slang made it out of that decade to the present, but the word "burn" is still pretty common. A good burn is what you call a particularly brutal insult leveled at someone else, and the burn is in recognition of that insult.

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You've just been assured that everything is "copacetic." What does that mean?

The word "copacetic" is a weird one because it sounds like one of those $10 words that's clearly smart and important in some way. It's not. It just means everything is fine, and no one is even really sure where the word came from originally.

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It was good to be a cool cat, but what was the opposite of a cool cat?

A "jive turkey" was not a good thing to be, by any means. This term generally meant someone was disingenuous and not cool. Maybe you were putting on a front, trying to be cool and trying to fit in where you didn't belong ... that could make you a jive turkey.

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If a person just explains what's going on, then asks if you can "dig it," what do they want to know?

If someone were to ask you, "can you dig it?" what they want to know is if you understand what they're saying, or if you agree with what they're saying. If you don't dig it, then you could probably say so, but a typical response is "I can dig it."

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What exactly does "Keep on truckin'" mean?

"Keep on truckin'" is one of the most common phrases associated with the '70s, probably due to how little it means. It just means "keep going" or "keep doing what you're doing," with a hint of the '70s fascination with trucker culture tossed in for good measure.

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When you're in class, you don't want to be a "space cadet." What does it mean?

Saying that someone is a "space cadet" is an extreme way of saying that their head is in the clouds and then some. You've zoned out completely if you're a space cadet and are no longer paying attention to anything.

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If it's time to "boogie," what are you about to do?

It was never a bad time to boogie in the '70s, because who doesn't love some dancing? "Boogie shoes" were dancing shoes, "boogie down" just meant to really commit to dancing, and "boogie-oogie-oogie," well, that just sounded good in songs.

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Your friend just said, "Catch you on the flipside." What's that supposed to mean?

Back in the '70s, you had limited ways to listen to music, and a popular option involved a record player and a vinyl record. If you wanted to hear more, you had to flip the record. The flipside of the record gave you more, so catching someone "on the flipside" meant you'd see them later.

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What might you say to a friend if they're getting super worked up and anxious?

When someone is decidedly not chill and they need to get chill, then you might recommend they "take a chill pill." It's a quick and easy way to let someone know that they're being a little uncool and need to take it down a notch.

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What would make you yell "psyche!" at someone?

You'd say "psyche" to someone if you're messing with them or just joking around. For instance, you might say, "Hey, want this $10 bill?" and then, just before they grab it, you pull it away and say, "psyche!" It's not nice, but it is what it is.

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What's an easy and fun way to say you find something agreeable?

"Right on" was a pretty ubiquitous phrase in the '70s, and it still gets plenty of use in the present as well. You'd say "right on" to indicate you like something, you approve of it or you just agree with what someone else is saying.

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If someone says "cool beans" to you, what else could they have said to make the same point?

"Cool beans" got a lot of play in both the '70s and the '80s, and you'll still hear it every now and then, even today. It's a playful way to say that you concur with someone, you agree with their point and it's good times.

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How would you describe a "spaz"?

If someone accuses you of being a "spaz," they're claiming that you're a weird, awkward sort of bumbling character. Maybe you're over-excited or you have no chill. The word fell out of favor, as people started using it as an insult for people with various physical and mental disabilities.

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You're having dinner at Grandma's house, and it is "grody." What's that mean?

You definitely don't come across the word "grody" too much these days, but it comes from the same place as "gross." Grody is a reference to something that is disgusting and unpleasant to you. You don't want a grody dinner.

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You're relaxing at home when you're best friend calls you up on the phone. They say, "I need you to do me a solid." What does that mean?

A favor is just a favor, but a "solid" is a next level sort of favor. Technically, it's probably just a normal favor, but saying it implies that it's something really important you're about to ask. For instance, "I need you to do me a solid and let me sleep on your couch tonight. I got kicked out."

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If someone asks you what the "skinny" is, what do they want to know?

When you need to know the "skinny," you want the scoop on something. You need the gossip about what's going on, as true or as factual as someone knows it. So if you hear your friend just got arrested, you might say, "What's the skinny on Dave going to jail?"

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Why would you ever say "ten-four"?

"Ten-four" or "10-4" is just trucker slang from back in the day that you can still run across pretty commonly today. It's a part of the 10 code that means "yes," for "affirmative." There are actually many other 10 codes, if you're interested to learn. For example, "10-20" means "Where are you?"

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If the Fonz told you to "sit on it," what was he saying?

The Fonz was famous for saying this on "Happy Days," which would make you think it's '50s slang. However, they seem to have made it up in the '70s and just retroactively decided it was something people said in the '50s.

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Your friend needs you to keep an eye open for "the man." What are you looking for?

This slang still gets tossed around today sometimes, but not as often as it once did. Someone referring to the police, or any law enforcement or government official, could call them "the man." It's generally not meant as a compliment.

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Folks have been saying that your best friend is a real "fry." What's the scoop on that?

If someone is a "fry," then they're sort of wacky, sort of crazy, sort of cool. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but you can't always say it's a good thing, either. It's best used when someone does something mind-blowing and bizarre that's worth acknowledging.

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What's one way someone in the '70s might have told you to mind your business?

Telling someone to mind their own business is pretty dry and blunt. It's much more fun to tell someone to stop dipping in your Kool-Aid in an effort to make the same point. After all, if you have some Kool-Aid, the last thing you need is someone putting their dipper in it.

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When you're "out to lunch," what are you?

If you're "out to lunch," the lights are on, but no one's home. Physically you're there, but mentally you're somewhere else. Like lunch! Basically, it just means you're being absent-minded and not paying attention at the moment.

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Do you know what it means if something is "to the max"?

When you do something "to the max," you're doing it in the most extreme way possible. You can party to the max, you can chill to the max, and you can probably nap to the max if you try hard enough.

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If someone says, "book it," what do you need to do?

"Book it" means it's time to make a speedy getaway, and that generally means it's time to run. You could use it just to mean you want to leave a place, but there's some haste implied in the term that should be respected.

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That's "far out," man! But what does that even mean?

The term "far out" popped up in popular usage back in the 1960s, but it also stayed strong throughout the '70s. When you say something is far out, that's because it impressed you by being very cool in some way.

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What exactly is a "stella"?

The term "stella" isn't a compliment, but as insults go, it's pretty tame as well. You'd call a girl at a disco a stella if you were being a little rude to her, maybe making fun of her dancing skills or just the idea of being at a disco in general.

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People are calling your party "bogue." What does it mean?

No one wants to be at a bogue party, because "bogue" means "bogus," and bogus just isn't good at all. Bogue is just the shortened form of bogus, but the spelling is the same length, so it works best when you speak rather than write it out.

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Someone just "laid a gasser." What happened?

Slang was never meant to be all that dignified and polite, so, you know, take this for what it's worth. If someone "laid a gasser," they farted. This is probably a good time to book it and leave the room.

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Image: Tom Kelley Archive / Retrofile RF / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Can you believe 1970 was 50 whole years ago? To say it was a different time is an understatement, but it was definitely a decade to remember, even if you weren't there to remember it. Some very cool things came out of that decade. People are still down with disco — just check out "Mamma Mia!" And if you have any doubt that the movies of the '70s are influential, perhaps you need to reacquaint yourself with 1977's "Star Wars." 

There was a ton to watch on TV, a ton of very cool cars and there was the lingo. The way people spoke in the '70s was funky and fun. Some of their slang still survives all these years later, and some barely made it to 1980. You probably know who "the man" is, but can you guess why someone might be "dipping in your Kool-Aid"? It's unlikely anyone has told you to "keep on truckin'" lately, but they might hit you with a sick "burn" every now and then. 

Whether you lived through the decade and are fluent in '70s slang or you missed it entirely but know it from movies and TV shows of the era, it's time to see how "far out" you can get with your '70s slang!

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